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Polly Gillespie and Grant Kereama on returning to the radio

After a tumultuous time, the dream team makes a fresh start with a brand new all-day breakfast radio show.
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The Woman’s Day photographer is calling out instructions to broadcasting legends Polly Gillespie and Grant Kereama. “Move a bit closer,” he tells them and obligingly they lean in, heads together, Polly’s hand on Grant’s shoulder, practically in a clinch.

“If we’d done photo shoots like this more often, our marriage would have lasted!” quips Polly.

“Hey, it lasted 26 years,” responds Grant, 50, arching an eyebrow.

Watching them together at a shoot to celebrate their eagerly awaited return to radio, it’s difficult to believe that Polly and Grant aren’t still a happily married couple. They have an ease with one another and a bond that seems as strong as ever.

“Well, we’ve known each other for 31 years,” points out Grant. “It takes a long time to get that sort of chemistry. It’s not something you could manufacture in a short period of time.”

“You couldn’t manufacture it even if you tried,” agrees Polly.

The duo say their bond remains as strong as ever.

As co-hosts of ZM’s breakfast show for over two decades and then The Hits since 2014, Wellingtonians Grant and Polly went through a big chunk of their married life on air. Their amazing chemistry made them the country’s most-loved radio duo – and longest serving breakfast hosts – although inevitably, in their private lives away from the listeners, things weren’t always going so smoothly.

“We’ve been through a lot of life stuff,” explains Woman’s Day columnist Polly, who shares three gorgeous kids with Grant – Tom, 24, Katherine, 23, and McGregor, 19. “We went through miscarriages, we went through babies, we went through me being an alcoholic. We’ve had really good years and we’ve had not-so-good years.”

One of the not-so-good times came in 2015 when their marriage broke up. Publicly, Polly shouldered the blame for the split, admitting that her drinking had been out of control, that she hadn’t always been a good wife and that somehow along the way she’d “lost her joy” in life.

While their personal relationship may have ended, their work one had to continue and inevitably their show on The Hits suffered. “It was hard for a while,” recalls Grant. “Can you imagine separating from your partner and the next day you come in and you’ve got to find that chemistry again? But it was our job, so we went in and did it. It was tough and it took a little while for us to build that trust back up again.”

Both fell in love with other people – Polly with her beau Tim and Grant with his new partner Lisa. They were still adjusting to this new way of being when another big upheaval came along and this time their working relationship was under threat.

It all began when they learned that their show on The Hits was going to be dropped from the Auckland area and Polly was offered a new contract that meant Grant would no longer be part of the line-up. There was no way she wanted to sign it. After talking honestly about the situation in an emotional video she posted on social media, she and Grant were taken off air suddenly, without being given a chance to say goodbye to their loyal listeners.

Polly reveals she refused to sign a new contract that would have taken Grant out of the lineup for their radio show.

At the time, both of them felt shocked and angry, particularly as they felt there had been a total lack of communication. There were hours spent in lawyers’ offices trying to sort the situation. At no time did either Polly or Grant consider going it alone professionally.

“I would have rather risked everything than done what they asked me to do,” admits Polly. “It really was a no-brainer. Who is better than Grant? No-one does what he does better than him.”

“And I like doing radio with you,” Grant tells her, as they sit side by side on a sofa once the photo shoot is finished. “I’ve done it by myself. You’ve done it by yourself. And we’re better together.”

Polly suspects a lot of people don’t appreciate how important Grant has been to her success.

“You know what’s amazing about him?” she says. “He’s one of the only guys I know whose ego is so secure that even though I’m outspoken and creative, and all those things generally associated with men in the media, Grant hasn’t had an issue with it.

“He has never felt like he should be the one telling the jokes. He’s been supportive and taken on the straight-man role. The fact I’ve been allowed to be the personality I am is because Grant hasn’t been upset by it. I’ve worked with other guys who didn’t like it. They were like, ‘Hey, hey, settle down and don’t be funny.’”

“We’re better together,” Grant says of their working relationship.

Grant adds, “The thing is, what Polly does is so good and really popular, why would you want to hold her back? She’s got this amazing out-there personality and my job is to enhance that, to make her feel comfortable enough to do what she can do.”

Over the past few months, being off air has been strange and also stressful with no income coming in.

“I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve been through the same sort of thing – it’s nothing unique,” reflects Grant. “A lot of people lose their jobs and you’ve just got to do your best to survive.”

As she watched her savings disappear, Polly gained a new appreciation of how fortunate she’d been for all those years to have a good, regular salary.

“I didn’t realise how lucky I was being able to pop across to the supermarket and buy something without thinking. Now I look at the price of everything. So it’s been a tough time, but some good things have come out of it, like learning to be more frugal and to be more empathetic to other people.”

In fact, while it may not have seemed so initially, losing their jobs may have been the best thing that could have happened to Polly and Grant. It has certainly strengthened the bond between them. “We’re much better friends than we were a year ago,” reveals Polly.

The pair say that losing their jobs ended up bringing them even closer together.

“I think when you show true loyalty to people, it creates a really strong bond. And there was loyalty on both sides. When I stood up for myself, Grant stood by my side.”

It has also been good having time for other things, aside from work. Polly – who’s coy about her age, saying, “Tell them I’m 27” – has taken the opportunity to spend time with some seriously ill fans and it’s helped give her a new outlook on life.

“It’s been less about me and more about other people,” she explains. “I thought I had good life experience and perspective, but this last six months has shown me I didn’t know anything really. I don’t think I’m going to forget anything I’ve learnt. I won’t slip back into some of the selfish patterns that perhaps I was well entrenched in.”

For Grant, the past couple of years have involved some of the most high-stress events that can happen to a person. Around the same time his marriage was ending, his best friend died. And having lost his job, he had to sell his house in Wellington.

“What I’m amazed by is I was able to handle it and come out the other side,” he says. “It’s a real education to know what I can get through. Plus, I’ve had great support from everyone around me. Relationships that were built up in the past have paid off.”

Grant and Polly have spent lots of time together while they’ve been off air. They even started up their own quirky online series, Car Radio, posting videos on Facebook, and very quickly built up a following. “One of them has had over 100,000 views so far – it’s insane,” laughs Polly.

In their down time, Polly and Grant started up their own quirky online series Car Radio.

There has been more time for hobbies – Grant has been candle-making, while Polly has been upping her technical and social media skills. And there have been morning lie-ins instead of 4am wake-ups.

But all that has now come to an end, because the radio dream team is embarking on their dream show and they couldn’t be happier. The Rova All Day Breakfast with Polly & Grant, which kicked off with its first broadcast on July 3, is available in Wellington central on 106.7FM and on New Zealand’s new digital entertainment app Rova. The show runs from 6-9am weekdays and is then available for the rest of the day. So basically, it’s Polly and Grant whenever you want, wherever you are.

“It’s something that’s never been done before – it’s a New Zealand first,” says an excited Polly, who also reunited with Grant on More FM earlier this month, hosting every Saturday morning from 6-10am in several regions, including Auckland and Wellington. “We’ve been told there are no rules, that we can do the show we’ve always wanted to do.”

Polly says, in a way, it feels that the rollercoaster events of the past six months were all meant to be.

“Everything we’ve gone through has led to this amazing thing that’s happening. Maybe we had to go through the hardship and learning to get this super-cool job. This new opportunity is going to be bigger than anything we’ve done. And if we hadn’t left our last job, we might have been scared to do it. We might have just stayed and kept plodding along because it felt safer.”

An emotional Polly says the tough times have made her more courageous, and that the strengthened bond between them means she and Grant are going to be great together.

Grant has found happiness with his sweetheart Lisa.

“Because we trust each other again, we like each other again and we’ve learnt we can rely on each other again,” she says, with tears welling in her eyes. So what do they want from this exciting new chapter?

“I want world domination,” declares Polly.

“I will hook myself to your star and follow you to that domination,” says Grant. “I’m right there.”

It can’t be easy for their new partners, this extraordinary chemistry between them. But they’ve all met and everyone is fine with the situation. In fact, Polly says she often exchanges messages with Lisa.

“There must be times when it’s weird,” she admits, “but I try not to think about it too much because if the boot was on the other foot, if Tim was working with his ex-wife, I’d be like, ‘No!’ So basically Tim and Lisa are much nicer people than me.”

Polly laughs as she admits her three kids have pretty much said that. “They think Lisa might be the nicest person they’ve ever met. I said, ‘Wait a minute, is she as nice as me?’ And they said she’s not as weird and funny, but yes, she’s nicer.”

“And the kids love Tim,” adds Grant. “That’s the good thing. I know they’ll be totally honest and they love him.”

Polly shares tales of Tim in her column most weeks.

Both still see a lot of each other’s families. Polly is close to Grant’s sisters, cousins and mum. And she says her own mother breaks her TV every now and then so Grant can go round and fix it. In August, the two branches of the family will be brought even closer when Katherine gives birth to a baby girl – their first grandchild.

“Our personal lives are great, our partners are great and we’re going to be grandparents,” says Grant, sounding like he can’t quite believe it.

“Some people have acrimonious splits,” adds Polly. “For us, we had tough times, we got through it and now we’re fortunate that we have a happy extended family situation where we try not to encroach on each other’s lives too much.”

Ask them if they still love each other and they don’t miss a beat. “Absolutely. Grant is family,” says Polly.

“That’s right,” agrees Grant. “Family. And it’s been a long time.”

Now the two of them are looking forward to getting back to radio again and reuniting with their other family of longtime listeners.

“So please come find us on Rova and More FM – it’s going to be better than it has been in a long time,” promises Polly.

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